by Bob Margolis
So you’re going to take a handgun training course. Congratulations for taking the initiative to become better trained. You’re already ahead of 95% of your fellow shooters.
To get the most out of your training, you need to bring the proper gear to your session. Having the right gear with you will make your experience better, and make your training most effective.
I’ll break things down into three categories: Clothing, Gun Gear, and Accessories.
In general, bring clothing that will suit you twenty degrees warmer or cooler than what you think the temperature will be. If you are taking a class in the winter at an indoor range, don’t assume that it’s heated. Even if it is heated, it could still be uncomfortably cold if you are not dressed for it. It’s also important to wear clothing that you can draw your weapon from easily. If you are taking a concealed carry class, you will need a concealment garment. Tactical vests also have lots of pockets and places to store magazines and extra ammo. For cold weather, companies like Nike and Under Armor make tight fitting garments that go under your regular clothes and will help keep you warm. They don’t add much bulk and still allow you to move freely. If it’s cold, bring a very warm coat that you can wear when you are not on the firing line.
Pants or shorts should have plenty of pockets for magazines, ammo etc. Jeans work fine but a cargo pant will work better.
Wear a hat with a brim to lessen the chance for any flying brass to hit you in the face.
Wear comfortable shoes that you can move well in. You don’t need “tactical” boots, but a sturdy shoe or sneaker is helpful. Avoid anything with open toes.
Most training facilities will let you know what is appropriate for gun calibers. Typically, .380 Auto to .45 ACP and everything in between. If you are a new shooter, bring a gun that is in good condition and functions properly. It’s best to know the gun you are bringing also. If you borrow a gun with external safeties you should know how to operate them. If you are left handed, be sure that any external safety is ambidextrous. For many reasons, simple is better. Semi-Automatic guns like Glocks, Smith & Wesson M&P’s and Springfield XD’s usually don’t have external safeties that you will have to operate during your class. Night sights are very helpful if you’re doing low light shooting. A backup gun is highly recommended if you have one. If anything goes wrong with your gun, you can switch out and keep on going.
Bring enough ammo each day for at least what you are told you will shoot. Most classes list the maximum number of rounds that you will need. That’s a safe number to have with you. All ammunition should be factory new and meet the specification of the school. Avoid reloads, which are often not permitted by schools. Also check with your school to see if they restrict velocity etc. Some indoor ranges only allow ammo up to a certain velocity. Many schools require jacketed ammo. You don’t need the high priced personal defense ammo for class. The least expensive good quality jacketed (FMJ-style) ammo will suit you fine.
Magazines will be critical for your class. As a general rule, you should have at least three magazines with you. If your state allows high-capacity magazines, even better. A weak side double magazine pouch is helpful. If you don’t have that, those cargo pants will come in handy.
If your class will cover any low-light shooting, a good quality tactical flashlight will be important. A flashlight is not something you should skimp on; get a light that has a momentary on switch and a bright light. Weapons mounted lights are nice but if you don’t have a holster that will hold the gun and the light, you will be better off with a handheld light.
Holsters are a very personal item. For most classes, a shooting side outside the waistband holster is preferred. A sturdy holster that was made specifically for your gun is preferred, but there are many more generic holsters that offer a reasonable fit. It’s important that your holster be sturdy and fit your gun well.
If you want to use an inside the waistband holster or any other type of holster, you should check with your school for their rules. Most likely, anything that is not waist mounted on the shooting side will not be allowed. Cross draw or shoulder holsters are frequently NOT allowed, as the muzzle will either cross your body or someone else on the line.
You will need a sturdy belt. There are many “instructor” belts out there that are reinforced and will do a really nice job of holding your holster in place perfectly. (They are for you, not just your instructor!) In any instance, your belt needs to be reinforced or double stitched.
Eye protection is critical when shooting anything. It’s even more critical when on the line with many people. Wrap-around glasses are preferred, as they will also lessen the opportunity for hot brass to get stuck against your face. If you are shooting outside, pay attention to the light conditions that you will face and wear appropriate eyewear.
Ear protection is also a personal choice. The best way to block sound for shooting is with earmuffs that go over your ears. Some people prefer to wear earplugs. Electronic earmuffs will help you to hear instructions and verbal communication while still blocking the sound of fire. They are on the expensive side, but if you shoot often are a worthwhile investment.
If you are driving to your class, you probably have the luxury or a large range bag that will hold everything. If you are traveling by plane or with friends and have limited space, a smaller range bag may be more appropriate. Take along everything that you think you might need in your range bag. Cleaning supplies, tools etc.
Many schools don’t have food available on site. You should plan on bringing everything that you will want or need to eat or drink each day. If it’s warm weather, sports drinks are helpful along with plenty of plain water. Fruit is a good quick energy boost when you feel you need one. An apple will give you more energy than a cup of coffee, and it will do it quicker. Bring quick snacks like dried fruits, nuts and trail mix.
Each night before your class, drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. If you drink alcohol the night before, limit your intake to half of what you would normally drink. Get up early and have a good breakfast. You will need all of your energy to focus and shoot your best.
If you are flying to a school, you will need to take some extra care with your guns. First, check your airlines website, as they will have the most up-to-date information there. As a general rule, you will need to do one of two things; lock your gun(s) in a hard-sided suitcase or place your guns in a locked case inside your soft-sided suitcase. If you choose the later, you can use the plastic cases that your guns came in, if they lock or you can purchase a locking case for your gun(s). On a recent trip, I chose to purchase a couple of the “In-Car-Gun-Safe” by Center-of-Mass.com. I got mine at Cabela’s. They lock with a key, are very slim and compact and are completely metal for protection. You will need to go to the ticket counter and let them know that you are traveling with locked, unloaded firearms. They will have you fill out a form that will be placed in your suitcase close to the firearms. Then you can lock the outside of your suitcase again. It’s really very simple. Any ammunition you are traveling with must be kept in separate packages from the firearms, but it can be in the same suitcase. Ammo is heavy and you may want to consider buying it at your destination. Look around though, schools will often sell ammo for higher prices than you can buy it locally.
Finally, when you get back home, or to your hotel…shower off all of that gunshot residue and get a great rest! You’ve earned it.